The Pittsburgh Steelers entered NFL week 14 riding high. The Steelers weren’t “supposed” to beat Ravens, and that victory was to propel them into the playoffs – and dare Steelers Nation dream, beyond.
The San Diego Chargers, in contrast, began the day at 4-8 after a week where word leaked head coach Norv Turner was to get the ax.
The Steelers were playing at home, and Ben Roethlisberger was back. As Mr. Baker, my old 8th grade World Studies teacher would say, it was a gimmie.
And the Steelers blew it.
2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Act, Coming to a City Near You
My, what a difference one week makes.
Against Baltimore, the Pittsburgh Steelers played hungry, focused, inspired football. They didn’t dominate, but they hung in against the odds, overcame adversity, and made the plays necessary to win in the fourth quarter.
They had the look of a team, in the words of Dale Lolley, that could be “dangerous in the playoffs.”
Coming into a hostile environment, one in which the franchise had never prevailed in 14 regular season attempts, the San Diego Chargers:
- Dominated the line of scrimmage while on defense
- Converted third downs
- Protected Philip Rivers with a make-shift offensive line assembled at the last minute with street free agents
- Got in Ben Roethlisberger’s face
- Won the time of possession battle
- Went 2-2 in the Red Zone
- Executed a fake punt flawlessly just when Pittsburgh threatened to make a game of it
- Forced turnovers and converted them into touchdowns
- Neutralized the Steelers return game
- Prevented the Steelers from converting third downs
And to the annoyance of Steelers Nation, all of this happened to a never ending serenade of praise from Charger’s Cheerleader-in-Chief Phil Simms.
Besides that, it was all Steelers…
Breaking Down the Chargers Victory Over the Steelers
…Seriously, there’s not a lot of deep X’s and O’s analysis to be made here. The Chargers dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers in all three phases of the game.
Don’t let the final score fool you. Antonio Brown’s touchdown pass was pure garbage time glory. Ditto Mike Wallace’s 11 yard touchdown. Forget the arguments about going for 2. Does anyone really think that mattered?
To the extent that a technical analysis does matter, here goes.
During the first half Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers offense was rusty. And while the Chargers were controlling the clock, the Steelers defense did a good job of containing them.
Being down at home 13 to 0 to a team that has lost 5 games in the second half is nothing to fear. And Mike Tomlin deserves credit coaching aggressively with the ball at the ten, 50 seconds to play and one time out remaining.
Ben Roethlisberger, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, and Shuan Suisham vindicated The Steelers vindicated Tomlin.
Such a bold move surly indicated the Steelers were going to make second half adjustments and reclaim the victory that was theirs. Right?
- But that was not to be.
The Chargers opened the second half cemented control of the game with a 17 play, 75 yard drive where they converted 5 third downs and consumed 9 minutes of clock.
The Steelers now needed to score 17 points in just over a quarter.
Chris Rainey answered with a 29 yard return…
- …but of course it got called back thanks to a Cameron Heyward penalty.
The Chargers then put the cherry on top when Roethlisberger bounced a fumble off of David Paulson with San Diego recovering in the end zone.
- Please, save the arguments about the call. It WAS a forward pass. So what?
If San Diego isn’t getting good penetration and/or Roethlsiberger is more on target, they have no good fortune to capitalize on.
All other analysis of the second half beyond that is academic. Yes, Pittsburgh did stab a couple of times at competing, but they either self destructed and/or San Diego diffused them all.
Still Searching for Identity or Are the Steelers Simply Inconsistent?
The 2012 Steelers were a team still finding itself, even though its early December… …Their seventh win [vs. the Ravens] gets them closer to a spot in the post-season, and how they handled the week leading up to this game then how they performed in it, revealed their identity. – Bob Labriola, editor, Steelers Digest, following the victory over the Ravens
How the San Diego beat Pittsburgh is far less important than what it means. The Pittsburgh Steelers are a better team than the Chargers.
- And that’s the problem.
Only two of the Steelers losses have come to playoff bound teams. In contrast, 5 of their 7 wins have come at the expense teams still vying for the post season.
- Bill Cowher used to say that a team’s identity forms during the season’s first 4-6 weeks.
But let’s humor Labriola, who explained in between the ellipsis points that the Steelers identity forging process was delayed by the uncanny string of injuries they suffered. Fair enough.
Victory over Baltimore appeared to clarify the 2012 Steelers identity. Now San Diego muddled that identity. Again.
Three weeks remain in this NFL season. And if deep into December time remains for an NFL team to define itself, then the Pittsburgh Steelers had better settle on an identity fast.
Because right now they look like a team with a lot of talent that simply cannot find a way to execute consistently.